Red wine vinegar is a workhorse in the kitchen that can do so much more than make a vinaigrette. Consider agrodolce: a sweet and sour condiment that sounds (and tastes!) opulent, but can be whipped up in minutes with some dark raisins, honey, and red wine vinegar. Or what about quick pickled red onions, which can make tacos, steaks, sandwiches and beyond just a bit better than before? You can pour a good glug of red wine vinegar over chicken as it roasts to leave you with the most irresistible pan drippings you could dream of, or add a few spoonfuls to a soup that’s “missing a little something”.
As good as red wine vinegar is, when you make your own from a bottle you really love, it’s even better. The stuff you buy in the supermarket often lacks the complexities you’ve come to love from your favorite bottle of red wine: the tannins, the backnotes, the floral aromas. Making your own isn’t an overnight process, and it requires patience, but have faith: this is most definitely worth it.
The Easy Way
Open a bottle of wine, pour yourself a glass to enjoy immediately, then leave the uncorked bottle in a warm place for a month or so. If you’re a wine drinker, you likely know that it’s important to finish a bottle once it’s been opened, since the wine will begin to oxidize and its flavor will degrade. This is exactly what you want to happen here, because the natural oxidation process is what eventually turns all wines into vinegar (you may have even accidentally done this before!).
Give it a tiny taste after four weeks to see if it’s as sharp as you would like it. If it’s not ready, keep aging it, giving tasting a drop every week until it’s aged to your personal idea of perfection. Once you’ve found your vinegary ideal, you can seal the bottle and keep it in your pantry, or our into a vinegar cruet.
If you’re worried about getting fruit flies—they’re attracted to the smell of vinegar— cover the neck of the bottle with a piece of cheesecloth and a rubber band during the aging process.
The More Complicated Way
If you can’t wait several weeks—or if you’re looking to make a larger amount than just one bottle— you’ll need to use something called a vinegar mother. Though they look rather dubious and “spoiled,” vinegar mothers are perfectly safe: they’re a natural film of cellulose that is created by the bacteria that converts a wine’s sugars into tart acetic acid. There’s no need to purchase a live vinegar mother online or from a specialty store or natural market. All you need is a live vinegar with active cultures, which you can readily find in most supermarkets.
When buying live vinegar from the market, make sure the bottle’s label specifies that it contains the mother.
In a glass jar, combine your live vinegar with the red wine of your choice in a 1:4 ratio, the cover with cheesecloth and a rubber band. Allow to sit in a warm space for a week or two until it converts to pungent, flavorful red wine vinegar.